Our University of Washington review comes from two different sources: a recent alumna and a current student. While the post is a little longer than usual, we thought it was a good idea to showcase the program from both of these perspectives. Alison Goetz graduated in 2008 with an MA from the Museology Program at the University of Washington. Her master’s thesis dealt with interpretive labeling for contemporary art. Currently she works at Blue Star Contemporary Art Center in San Antonio in various roles, including archivist and director of the Family Day education program. Although her main area of focus has been in collections and database management, her recent opportunity to implement interpretive programming is something she hopes to expand upon in the future. Erin Bailey is a current student in the program, and is co-chair of the Seattle Emerging Museum Professionals group. Many thanks to each of these ladies for providing their input!
Name of School: University of Washington
Degree: Master of Arts in Museology
Location: Seattle, Washington
Program Emphasis: Interdisciplinary, with a mix of practical experience and theory. Students take courses in administration, collections, exhibitions, operations, education, among other electives. A thesis component is required, as are internships and practicums.
The Alumni Perspective (Alison)
I admit, one of the main reasons I initially decided on the University of Washington’s Museology Graduate Program was for the opportunity to study, work, and live in Seattle. Enough strong coffee to power an army of students? Check. Stunningly beautiful campus and city? Yep. And, most importantly, an abundance of museums? Oh, yes. So, I did fall in love at first sight with the city. But in the end, that will only get you so far, and I am still happy with my choice to attend this program.
After receiving a BA in Art History and Psychology at the University of Wisconsin, I held an internship in the curatorial and exhibition departments of the Wisconsin Historical Society. My “day job” was not museum-related, and I suddenly found myself wanting to spend more and more of my time (not getting paid) doing exhibition research & development for the museum. I realized it was time to turn this passion into a career, so based on my own research and the advice of my mentors, attending graduate school seemed to be the next logical step. I knew I wanted a program that would provide me with opportunities for practical training in museum work, and also the chance to be introduced to a wide network of connections in the field. Reflecting now on my two years in the program, I can say that the program succeeded with respect to these goals.
In my cohort of approximately 25 students, there were varying levels of museum experience prior to entering the program, and also a huge variety of future career goals, including administration, education, registrarial work, and curatorial work. One great thing about the setup of the program is that if a student has a firm idea of the type of museum work they are interested in, they are able to tailor their elective offerings to this track, both in and out of the Museology program. If a student is a bit more undecided, the interdisciplinary nature of the program, and requiring core classes, provides students with opportunities to learn, in depth, about each sector that makes a successful museum. I feel this interdisciplinary setup is important. While it’s great to have a specialization, it’s also very helpful to have more than a basic idea of how each department is run. If you’re employed in small museum or if you just want to keep your museum career options open, flexibility and a wide breadth of museum knowledge is very important..
The main strengths of the program, in terms of preparation for a museum career, are the built-in practical experiences in the form of internships/practicums, the availability of related on-campus jobs, and the required thesis component.
Internships and practicum credits are required to graduate. Practicums are available at participating campus departments, including the Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture, and the Henry Art Gallery, among others. Internships for Museology students are available at virtually any and every Seattle-area museum and cultural center, of which there are many. Program administrators were extremely helpful in making local internship opportunities known to students. Some museums where Museology students have held internships include The Seattle Art Museum, the Experience Music Project, the Museum of History & Industry, and even with Microsoft’s art collection. All of this built-in practical experience is invaluable, both as far as building a museum resume and in introducing students to connections in the field.
Additionally, as a graduate student, most Museology students at the UW are eligible for on-campus work-study positions. I was quite pleasantly surprised at the number of relevant jobs available. I worked for two years in digital collections at the School of Art, essentially getting paid to learn Photoshop and to catalog images. Several other students held jobs at the Henry and the Burke museums in a variety of roles.
Finally, the program’s required thesis component can be an important career-building tool for a number of reasons. The thesis, (or thesis project) should ideally be designed as a tool to help the student in pursuing their professional goals. By the second year, when students are working on their thesis, most know the museum track they’d like to pursue, and build their thesis around this goal. To ensure academic standards are met, and for guidance, the graduate school requires students to form a thesis committee made up of professors and professionals in the field. Although the idea seemed a bit daunting to me at first, forming the committee really forces students to personally build a team of mentors and future references. On a personal note, my thesis dealt with interpretation for contemporary art, and I was excited to be able to recently call back to my research when composing contemporary art guides for young people at my current job.
As alumnae of this program, students can keep in touch and network on the recently very active facebook page, e-newsletters, e-mail lists, and activities like job fairs and picnics.
Even though I had a positive experience in the program, there are, of course, a couple things I might have done differently, as I look back after four years:
- More networking and involvement: Students need to be proactive when it comes to the professional development opportunities offered. These might come in the form of guest speakers, museum professionals met on the field trips to Seattle’s many museums, or in volunteer opportunities. The resources are readily available, so in hindsight, meeting with more people currently working in the field is probably one of the most important things I could have done.
- Take a grant-writing class. I can’t tell you how many museum job postings I’ve seen that require grant-writing knowledge. Of course it’s important for development jobs, but if your museum is small, they might have the curator, collection manager, or educator write parts or all of the grant. At the very least, it’s important to have experiential knowledge of how museums receive a majority of their funding no matter what one’s area of focus is.
On one last note, I was lucky enough to meet a great group of friends in the program, all of us currently involved in various museum and arts roles in our respective communities. So, don’t discount the importance of graduate school friendships– while it’s always wonderful to make new friends, doing so within a relatively small professional field also has the added benefit of dramatically increasing the chance of being introduced to like-minded contacts.
The Current Student Perspective (Erin)
Living in Seattle is fraught with stereotypes of coffee shops, flannel shirts and Nirvana. These are all true and for many the 90’s never left. However, at the University of Washington there is clear growth and development past the 90’s with new programs, such as Queer and Sexuality studies program and the Learning Sciences program. These programs are paired with new resources to support new ideas and continued innovation at the University of Washington (UW).
One of the best UW resources is the Burke Museum of Natural History, which is closely tied to the Museology program at the University of Washington. This program offers the museum field one of the few audience research focused graduate programs, along with an academic look at social issues in museums. The New Directions in Audience Research initiative and the connection with the Journal of Museums & Social Issues were two of many selling points when I started shopping for graduate schools. The faculty and students have a reciprocal relationship, providing interesting research opportunities along with professional development.
The culture of the program is collaborative, supportive and provides the “you can do it mentality.” Nearly every idea I had was given attention, direction and support. This is not always easy to accomplish with 65 students in a program with only 7 faculty members. The students in the program are among the best I have worked with; ambitious, innovative and articulate are but a few descriptors. With a healthy mix of recent grads, seasoned professionals and those switching fields, the culture of UW fosters innovative projects. Many of my peers have started impressive projects that outlast graduation, for example Michelle Del Carlo started the Pop Up Museum project, a create conversational space where she brings people, objects, and their stories together. Mark Rosen established the first Emerging Museum Professionals group in Seattle, which just celebrated its second anniversary. Rose Paquet Kinsley and Aletheia Wittman started the The Incluseum project, which aims to encourage conversations about social inclusion while promoting social inclusion through a practical lens. These are but a few of the projects coming from Museology students in the last year.
These projects, which I can’t call student projects, are one of many exciting components to the program. Museology is based on a few core classes, focusing on theory, history of museums, audience research and education. The program does a great job of forcing students to leave the Burke Museum, where nearly all the departments classes are held, take interdisciplinary electives and intern at the museum of your choosing. These requirements ensure that well-rounded students leave the program prepared for their careers.
The program experience of living and studying in Seattle is among the best. With the high education achievements of the state, the only thing left to battle is the dreary days. However, the program allows all students to excel – they strongly believe that you belong there and care about the success of each individual student. If you are interested in natural history museums you will have more opportunities than those interested in art museums but that does not cheapen the experience for art interested individuals, there are plenty of rich opportunities. All in all the program develops students to be the best professionals possible and the students make the program the best graduate program on the west coast.